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New research reveals how psychiatric disorders alter the brain.

Research Reveals Brain Manifestations of Psychiatric Disorders

A novel study conducted jointly by Radboudumc and Monash University has demonstrated that individuals with psychiatric conditions such as depression, autism, and schizophrenia each exhibit distinct brain alterations. These changes pertain primarily to brain size and functionality, varying in nature across different disorders. The research, published in Nature Neuroscience, examined 1,300 subjects afflicted with six distinct psychological disorders.

The visualization of psychiatric disorders within the brain ultimately aims to enable more targeted and personalized treatments for patients. Disorders like depression, schizophrenia, and autism each possess a distinctive neurological signature. This implies that the brain function of individuals with these conditions differs, resulting in diverse brain shapes and sizes.

The conventional approach to investigating brain alterations relied on group averages of patients with the same disorder. However, this approach is limited as it fails to provide insight into the unique brain patterns of individual patients.

Standardized Brain Size Model

The study utilized an innovative methodology developed by researchers from Radboudumc and Monash University. It involves a detailed analysis of individual brains, employing new statistical techniques designed by Andre Marquand of Radboudumc, who was recently appointed as a professor of Computational Psychiatry at Radboudumc and Radboud University.

The new research, in collaboration with Monash University, starts with a standardized model of brain size based on age and gender, followed by calculations of deviations from this model. This approach is akin to growth charts in pediatric medicine, where individual differences are identified.

Visible Psychiatric Disorder

For each psychiatric disorder, the researchers identified not only deviations in brain volume but also other distinctions. Notably, within the same disorder, significant deviations in the same brain region were observed in only 7 percent of individuals. “Because the intra-group differences within the same disorder are so substantial, pinpointing a treatment or causal mechanism by solely examining the group average is challenging,” says Alex Fornito. “Furthermore, it can also explain why individuals with the same diagnosis can still vary significantly in symptoms and treatment outcomes.”

Enhanced Understanding of Brain Alterations

Further analysis revealed that brain regions with deviations often collaborate in networks. When one area malfunctions, it affects the entire network. Each disorder is characterized by a unique network, explaining the variation in symptoms and treatment outcomes. The research team employed these insights to identify potential treatment points, leading to more diverse and specific treatment possibilities. The location of a disorder within the brain can vary, indicating multiple underlying mechanisms for the same diagnosis. This new approach underscores the need for individualized treatment plans.

The developed approach provides a deeper understanding of brain alterations across various levels, from specific regions to extensive brain circuits and networks. This contributes to an enhanced comprehension of how the brains of individuals with psychiatric disorders are impacted. Thus, the findings of this study, led by Marquand, Segal, and Fornito, mark a turning point in comprehending psychiatric disorders. Identifying the unique nature of brain alterations within the same diagnosis may open the door to tailored treatments and improved outcomes for individual patients.


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